The 45-liter edition of the Peak Design Travel Backpack is simply one of the best backpacks I’ve reviewed. However, it is not without some flaws.
In this review, I’ll highlight what I believe to be its key strengths and weaknesses, having used it as my primary backpack over the last 4 years.
Since this is (for the most part) going to be a gushing review, let me emphasize this is not sponsored in any way. I think you’re best served if I just tell you honestly about the pros and cons so that you can make up your own mind. There are some affiliate links that help support the site.
- Incredible design, full of beautiful touches
- Highly versatile (35L expands to 45L)
- Great materials & holds its shape
- High rain resistance with weather-sealed zippers
- Removable sternup strap can be a little easy to lose (best kept stowed)
Who is this backpack for?
The Peak Design 45L is ideally suited to travelers whose style involves (for example) air travel, taxis, and hotels or B&Bs.
Its focus is very much on ease of use and organization, areas in which it truly excels, while eschewing the sort of highly technical harness you might need for a more outdoors or intense travel style.
You should consider the Peak Design 45L if any of these apply:
- You travel carry-on style and stay in hotels, B&Bs or holiday homes
- You want a suitcase-style backpack with a lot of space that can be worn on its own or together with rolled luggage
- You travel (optionally) with tech gear such as a laptop or camera
- You’re a weekend warrior, business traveler, digital nomad, or tourist
But it may not be the best option if:
- Your travel style involves a lot of extended hiking, staying in hostels, or wearing a backpack for hours on end. While the Peak Design 45L is weather-proof and sufficiently comfortable, it isn’t the best option for pure adventure-style travel.
- You mainly need a daypack. (It’s just too big/heavy for this — see our daypack recommendations.)
Main backpack features
The 45L Travel Backpack has a ton of clever features. So many that it’s worth watching Peak Design’s tutorial videos to understand everything it can do.
Using it also feels good, much like an Apple product (or just think of your own favorite brand). All the little touches — like the magnetic pouches, hidden straps, and clever storage spaces — create a totally fluid experience.
At the same time, something I appreciate about its design is its restraint. What often happens with a certain type of Kickstarter-launched backpacks is that they go overboard with pointless features that only look good in promo videos (A brand like Tropicfeel is a big offender of this too). Peak Design avoids clutter and only includes features you’re actually likely to use.
Despite its sturdy 400D nylon shell, which holds its shape when unloaded, this backpack weighs a reasonable 2.05 kg (4.5 lb).
Some of the features include:
- Laptop/tablet sleeve. I like how it’s placed at the pack (for proper weight balancing) and includes a false bottom to avoid anything hitting the ground.
- Two outer straps that can be used to attach anything on the front. This is great for a coat or rain jacket for example.
- Top pocket with a soft interior for sunglasses or other quick-access items
- Two big side pockets that will fit a water bottle or a tripod.
- Front compartment with 5 different sleeves where you can organize various smaller items.
Most importantly, it provides a big main space that hasn’t been further subdivided, so you can organize your clothing and other main items here as you please.
The accessory system
One of the biggest advantages of this backpack is that you can combine it seamlessly with any of Peak Design’s many excellent accessories.
It’s essentially an entire ‘system’ that lets you enhance it with optional extras, all sized perfectly to the backpack’s dimensions.
These accessories truly let you get the most out of the 45L Travel Backpack and use it as one integrated system. The toiletry bag, electronics pouch, and packing cubes are all just as thoughtfully designed and will fit exactly.
I have used a lot of packing cubes and pouches by numerous brands but Peak Design’s are my favorites, hands down. So much so that even if I travel with another backpack for a particular trip, all my accessories are still Peak Design’s.
What they all have in common is that the materials used are lightweight while still holding their form, while the subdivisions are flexible and adaptable. I love the little ‘folders’ Peak Design has added to its wash and electronics pouches which actually help you organize things properly without everything having to be behind zippers.
I especially recommend these 3 accessories:
Packing cubes: these are some of the nicest packing cubes I’ve used. They’re lightweight while still keeping their shape. You can either use them as one big cube or divide the space into two. I personally just use the Small Packing Cube for things like socks and underwear. The Medium Packing Cube is worth getting if you want to be super organized with your shirts and such. (I tend to just stack these in the main compartment.)
Wash pouch: it offers lots of little storage spaces, plus a pouch that closes by itself using hidden magnets. Great for keeping small stuff like Q-tips (cotton buds) or contact lenses. The toiletry bag fits exactly in the backpack’s front compartment. It of course has a hook so you can hang it from a railing or basin.
Electronics pouch: again, loads of little storage spaces for cables, SD cards, etc. Amazing if you’re a digital nomad or simply travel with many electronics. Losing a tiny but oh-so-important adaptor cable or tripod connector would drive me mad so many times until I finally organized everything in this pouch.
Is it carry-on size?
Yes, the Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack is fully carry-on size compliant! However, this does come with a little asterisk, as it depends on the mode in which you use it.
By default it has a capacity of 35 liters, putting it well within any airline carry-on size limits. But if you need just a bit of extra space, you can expand it to 45L.
In its expanded state, it may be too big for some particularly stringent airlines. I should say I’ve still managed to fly carry-on many times even in 45L mode without any questions asked. It really helps that visually it doesn’t seem like it’s too big, so if you don’t overstuff it, you should be okay. However, officially it will be a bit over the limit for some airlines when it’s expanded.
At 35L it’s perfect for a weekend or week-long trip. I’ve only expanded it to 45L for trips longer than a week or so.
In either mode, it won’t fit under the seat in front of you on a flight, but it will fit in the overhead compartment.
After long use
I’ve been using the Peak Design 45L for 4 years now. Since this is an updated review, I can comment on its durability and long-term use.
I’m happy to report that even my early batch 45L pack is still going very strong! All of the zippers are in a perfect state and I have had zero issues with durability. From reviews in the travel community, I can also tell that Peak Design takes its product quality seriously, so my experience seems to be typical. Nothing about the design itself has ended up being an annoyance after long use.
There is a slight fade noticeable on the front exterior, after having taken the pack on some adventure trips to developing countries where I’ve thrown it onto dirt paths and such. So this is not so much of a surprise and it may just be time for a deep wash.
The harness is a potential downside of the Peak Design Travel Backpack that is at least worth understanding so you know what to expect.
The harness includes two shoulder straps (naturally!) but also a sternum strap and a waist strap. These help distribute the weight and ensure a good level of comfort, but it’s not the most comfortable to wear for many hours on end, should that be your main requirement.
Firstly, the sternum strap is a bit flawed. It is detachable on both sides, which is wonderful if you want to adjust it to your chest height. Unfortunately, this also makes it easier to come loose. If you’re ever checking this bag in, I recommend detaching the sternum strap and stowing it in a pocket somewhere, to ensure it doesn’t get stuck on anything.
The waist straps are also stowable and are a bit on the thin side. They do the job just fine but they’re hardly the type of thick waist strap you find on more backpacking-oriented packs.
Clearly, Peak Design has gone down the route of making an aesthetically pleasing and minimal harness, knowing that this is all that most travelers will probably need. This is especially true if your travel style is oriented around air travel / taxis / hotels.
But if you do a lot more hardcore adventuring, hosteling, or hiking, I suggest the Tortuga Travel Backpack at the high end or the Osprey Farpoint 40 at the budget end, which have more heavy-duty suspension systems more appropriate for such a travel style.
Additionally, when expanded to 45 liters, most of the volume is in the ‘depth’, which isn’t ideal for weight distribution. If long-term wear is your main concern, it can be better to pick a backpack with a bit more height than depth.
45L vs. 30L version
Although they seem similar they are actually very different.
The 30L feels more like an outsized daypack. I use it as my commute bag for storing my laptop, keyboard, notepad, etc. when working from a co-working office. The 30L benefits from having a smaller travel organizer that is accessed from the top, which is great for storing pens, USB drives, and other knick knacks.
I haven’t taken the 30L on a trip and probably won’t use it for anything other than a weekend trip. It’s just too small and not designed for bigger trips. I consider the 30L more of a larger sibling to Peak Design’s Everyday packs than a sibling of the 45L.
Despite a few nitpicks, the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L is one of my top 3 favorite backpacks. For many types of trips, it is in fact my favorite, full stop.
When I’m going on, say, a budget backpacking trip to Thailand, I’m more likely to reach for my Osprey Farpoint 40, which is a more outdoors/hiking-oriented pack.
But when I go on a vacation in Europe, a work trip, or a family visit, it’s the Peak Design that goes with me every time. For general/air/urban travel, I think it’s simply one of the best backpacks you can get.
Where to buy
Peak Design mainly sells its products through its own site. I recommend getting it directly from Peak Design as they offer free shipping and it’s easier to manage your warranty.
A few other retailers also carry Peak Design gear, but mostly their Everyday product line. The 45L Travel Backpack is NOT available on Amazon for instance. The only other place I’ve found it so far is at REI, which may be beneficial if you’re a member of REI, otherwise it’s best to buy it straight from Peak Design.
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